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Possible early dementia symptoms

Dementia is a serious brain disorder that interferes with a person's ability to carry out everyday tasks. Because dementia is usually progressive, early signs and symptoms may be vague and subtle.

  • The key feature of dementia is a decline in cognitive functions. These are mental processes such as thinking, reasoning, learning, problem solving, memory, language and speech.
  • Other features that occur frequently in dementia include changes in personality and behaviour.
  • Generally these symptoms are not considered dementia unless they have continued unabated for at least six months.
  • Dementia has many different causes. Some may be reversible such as certain infections, drug intoxication and liver diseases. Of the irreversible causes, the most common in older adults is Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Although dementia is frequently linked to old age, sometimes referred to as getting senile, it is not a normal part of ageing. Even children with certain degenerative brain disorders can develop dementia.

Memory loss: Is it ageing, Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?

Alzheimer’s disease usually begins with mild, slowly worsening memory loss. Many older people fear that they have Alzheimer’s disease because they can't find their glasses or remember someone's name.

  • These very common problems are most often due to slowing of mental processes with age. It is not clear whether this is a normal part of ageing.
  • While this is a nuisance, it does not significantly impair a person's ability to learn new information, solve problems or carry out everyday activities, as Alzheimer’s disease does.
  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the term used by doctors when memory loss is greater than what "normally" occurs with ageing, but a person is still able to perform normal daily activities.
  • Memory loss follows a specific pattern in Alzheimer’s disease. The losses are mainly in short-term memory. This means that the person has problems remembering recent events.
  • The person cannot remember what he did last week or instructions the doctor gave in the morning for taking a new medicine.
  • This often contrasts sharply with the person's strong ability to remember minor details and events from many years ago.
  • The memory loss is followed by many other cognitive and behavioural symptoms. Eventually, over many years, the person loses many mental and physical abilities and requires around-the-clock care.
  • MCI is a transitional zone between age-related memory loss and early Alzheimer’s disease. A person is often said to have MCI when he or she has Alzheimer’s-like memory loss while overall thinking and reasoning skills are maintained.
  • The person with MCI is able to think clearly, solve problems, learn new information and communicate despite relatively minor memory loss.
  • Memory loss in MCI is more severe than purely age-related memory loss.

There are other types of MCI, but the type involving short-term memory loss is the most common. Medical professionals call this type "amnestic" MCI. Amnestic has the same root as the word “ amnesia”, meaning “memory loss”.

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